Powerful gay men. Vulnerable teen-age boys. Murder.
For years, some prominent local men who led secret lives were
rumored to be protected. Whispers surrounding another
important man's death prompt the question: Is there really a
The secret everyone knew
By ROBERT PRICE, Californian
staff writer e-mail: email@example.com
Monday January 20, 2003, 03:40:00
two weeks, police cars were parked around Fitts' house in a bizarre
stakeout probably never before seen in the well-kept, middle- class
neighborhood. (Fitts lived two doors down from then-Assemblyman Don
Rogers, the former Bakersfield city councilman who'd nominated him
as police commissioner four years earlier.)
More than a month after the murder, however, The
Californian still had not published Fitts' name in connection
with the case. Editors would wait for an arrest.
The rest of the city was fully aware of the suspect's name, it
On May 17-18, a group of 200 parents dubbed Mothers of
Bakersfield picketed in front of the suspect's house, the Kern
County Administration building and the courts building and announced
plans to seek Leddy's recall.
Rumor that The Californian was part of a cover-up was
apparently so pervasive that on May 20, then-Assistant Managing
Editor Owen Kearns Jr. wrote a page A1 editor's note explaining why
Fitts' name had been withheld in connection with the investigation.
"There was far more danger of being accused of a coverup had we
not run the story at all than in running the story and leaving out
several elements," Kearns wrote. " ... I would state emphatically
that there has been no pressure from official agencies, private
organizations or any individual to keep us from publishing
information on this case."
It was the fear of a libel suit, not any conspiratorial pressure,
Kearns explained in December 2002, that prompted the abundance of
Fitts was finally identified by name in the newspaper May 22, the
day after he was arrested on suspicion of furnishing drugs to minors
and related misdemeanor offenses.
But the Mothers of Bakersfield wanted more.
Leddy refused to satisfy them. He told KUZZ radio he preferred
not to prosecute a suspect "for dumping a body along a road" if
investigators could later develop information that might lead to a
The following week, one possible reason for the D.A'.s
unwillingness to indict Fitts (or anyone else) for the murder became
clear: The county coroner's office had failed to take time-of-death
tests on Butler's body.
Sheriff's officials told The Californian they assumed the
coroner would take crucial body-temperature readings; the coroner
said such tests weren't taken unless they were specifically
requested. By the time investigators realized what had happened, it
was too late. The body, too cold for useful evaluation, was
Investigators also were troubled by the theory that Fitts, who
had a heart condition, probably could not have committed the murder,
or disposed of the body, by himself.